European Memories

of the Gulag

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After release: Estonians in Magadan

Eela’s release in 1956, like that of many Gulag prisoners, was not followed by an immediate return to her homeland. Because they were legally obliged to remain in exile or had lost all contact with their friends and their past, some former prisoners settled near the camps. Eela, like other Estonian friends, spent some years in Magadan before finally returning to Estonia. This part of her life story is particularly well documented with photographs, fleeting evidence of her happy moments.

Among those who were officially free but whose living conditions were necessarily similar to detention, a little community formed. At first, the released prisoners lived in the same huts as when they were working in the camp. As living conditions became better, they furnished and decorated the rooms and their lives were less arduous. Eela and her husband, who had met in Magadan, did what they could to improve their housing, with window shutters against the cold and burglars, furniture and home-made household equipment.

The couple took advantage of the short warm season in Kolyma to discover nature and the coast. Excursions and fishing trips filled the summer weekends and even in winter there were walks to take. The group of Estonian friends would often gather for entertainment in the evening: any excuse for a party, even christening the cat!